Career Options - Biomedical Science and Human Biology

  • Career Options - Biomedical Science and Human Biology

Biomedical Science and Human Biology graduate destinations

A survey of graduates 6 months after graduation reveals that QUB graduates from these programmes have recently gone to work in:

  • various lab-based roles within the pharmaceutical, life science, biotechnology and food science industries e.g. Clinical Research Assistant, Scientist, Trainee Healthcare Scientist, Quality Control Analyst, Junior Biomedical Laboratory Technician
  • scientific but non-lab-based roles e.g. Regulatory Affairs Assistant
  • various roles which demonstrate their transferable skills e.g.  Management Intern (Health and Social Care Trust), Manager (National Retail Chain), Support Worker (National Charity), Fitness Instructor (Freelance)

Some have gone into further study in areas such as Medicine, Dentistry, Computational Biology, Teaching, and PhDs in various research areas.

As with all programmes at all universities, some graduates have gone into non-graduate level work. Recent roles have included: Shop Assistant, Call Centre Operative and Bar staff.  There can be many reasons to explain this including saving for further study, wanting to take some time-out, but often it is due to a lack of career planning prior to graduating. Reviewing these careers resources and taking advantage of opportunities to Go Further will help to ensure that you fulfil your career potential. If you wish to book an appointment to discuss your options and plan your career you can do this through MyFuture.

The National picture: What do graduates do? is an annual report showing the national picture of graduate destinations.

Some typical career areas

Healthcare Science
The NHS careers website gives an overview of the variety of healthcare science roles that they have available.  Roles including Genetics Technologist and Tissue Bank Practitioner, do not require an accredited degree.

In order to become HCPC registered as a Biomedical Scientist, students will need to complete a Registration Training Portfolio. You can find details of the process on the IBMS website.  If you are taking the Biomedical Science degree (which is accredited by IBMS) you can apply for Trainee Biomedical Scientist jobs within the NHS which would give you your lab-based training element for your portfolio.

The NHS Scientist Training Programme is a graduate entry programme for Healthcare Scientists into the NHS, through which, in addition to working, candidates undertake further study in their specialism.  This is a very competitive programme to get into.  As part of the application process you will be required to demonstrate what you have done to find out about the programme, the work involved and the NHS so interested students are recommended to:

  • Volunteer within the NHS.  The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has a volunteering section. Even if you can’t find an opportunity to volunteer within a lab, any opportunity within the NHS gives you the chance to understand the organisation better and to network with potentially useful contacts.
  • Apply early – the programme generally opens for applications in January/February

Physician Associates

This is a newly emerging graduate option in the UK, but this role has been in existence in the US for some time. They work under the supervision of a doctor or surgeon and carry out supportive work such as obtaining medical histories, conducting physical examinations, treating some illnesses and injuries and counselling on preventive health care. The NHS Careers website has some information about the role including entry requirements (a further accredited qualification will be required).

Genomic/Genetic Counselling

The NHS Health Careers website describes the role of Genetic/Genomic Counsellors as working directly patients and families offering genetic/genomic information and support allowing them to make health decisions. The role requires strong communication and counselling skills so voluntary work with vulnerable people can be a great way for interested students to develop relevant skills and experience. Some basic counselling training (e.g. through an evening class) would be advantageous. An accredited Masters is required, but rather than apply to the Masters programme directly, this has been folded into the NHS Scientist Training Programme. Find out more on the NHS Health Careers website.

Allied Health

There are a number of allied health professions which may be of particular interest to students of these subjects. Examples include: Dietitian, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Speech and Language Therapist. These require further study, but each has an accelerated graduate entry route.

Medicine and Dentistry

Most graduates from Biomedical Science and Human Biology at Queen's who want to get into Medicine or Dentistry choose to apply to Queen's for the MB Medicine or BDS Dentistry. Some other medical and dental schools offer graduate entry programmes through which graduates can fast track a medical or dental degree in 4 years.

Candidates will be required to have a strong academic record including a 2.1 degree.

For Medicine - it is recommended that students gain some experience in a medical setting e.g. volunteering in a hospital or residential care home, and have spoken to a doctor to discuss the career in more detail. A period of work shadowing may be particularly useful and it is also recommended that students keep up-to-date with medical topics in the news. Medschools Online has lots of useful information about the courses and how to get in. There is additional information about the career, including information on funding and admissions tests, on the British Medical Association website, the Royal Society of Medicine website and the NHS Careers website.

For Grad entry to Dentistry - contact your local dental hospital or practice to arrange a visit and possibly some work shadowing. More information about Dentistry and the graduate entry route can be found on the Dental Schools Council website.

Funding questions? - see money4medstudents and DELNI Student Finance

Life Sciences Industry

The Life Sciences industry covers a wide spectrum of companies including Pharmaceuticals, Contract Research, Medical Devices and Biotechnology.  In addition to the lab-based roles (with job titles such as Analyst, Scientist and Laboratory Technician, there are a variety of non-lab based roles within this industry as employers are keen to hire people with science background for roles in Sales, Marketing, Purchasing, Project Management, Regulatory Affairs and HR. You can get an insight into the Industry through this HM Government Report Strength and Opportunity (pdf). Some Life Sciences companies run graduate schemes but many do not. When looking for work it is helpful to know the companies in the sector and look directly on their websites for opportunities. You can find relevant companies through: the  Invest NI Life Sciences Company Directory; The Irish Life Sciences Directoryabpi Careers (UK Pharmaceutical industry). 

Computational Biology / Bioinformatics

This is a growth area which involves the application of computing, statistics and mathematics to biological information. It is a growth area with opportunities arising within research groups, academia and the Pharmaceutical industry. A Masters qualification in Bioinformatics, Computing or Statistics is often required and a PhD may be preferred. There are some articles on the Biohealthmatics website.

Science Communication

Translating scientific and technical information into a style that is easy for others to understand requires specialist knowledge and strong communication skills. This job profile (Science Writer) has more details about the work, including case studies, entry requirements and typical employers. The European Medical Writers Association have produced a Careers Guide, and there is useful information on the website of the Association of British Science Writers, the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) and journalism.co.uk.

With a first degree in Science, a postgraduate degree in science, a journalism qualification or a specific Science Communication course can help ease the transition into writing.  You may find some advertised volunteering opportunities in journalism and PR, and some opportunities through The Gown.  It is also worth making proactive, speculative approaches to relevant magazines and newspapers. It is important to start building a portfolio of written articles. 

Government and Defence

Government departments hire science graduates into a variety of both scientific and non-scientific roles.  DSTL – The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory have graduate scientist and graduate analyst roles for science graduates.  The Civil Service Fast Stream is an accelerated training and development programme for graduates, placing them into a variety of departments within the Civil Service.

Research

A number of research career opportunities exist within universities, public sector bodies, charitable organisations and industry (especially Pharmaceutical). It may be possible with a good first degree to find work as a trainee research scientist, but a Masters is likely to be needed for this kind of role. For a career in the area, a PhD will probably be required. It is recommended that students interested in this area try to get some experience of assisting on a research project, or gain additional laboratory experience.   These job profiles (Research Scientist (life sciences), Research scientist (medical)) have some more information about what the work involves, including case studies and typical employers.

It is recommended that, before applying for a PhD, students speak to lecturers and PhD students about what it involves. 

Teaching/Education

In Schools: A recognised teaching qualification is essential to find work in this area. The Department of Education Northern Ireland has general details about Initial Teacher Education (which includes the PGCE). The Universities and Colleges offering the training also have information on their websites which include how to apply and the closing dates e.g. Queen’s Initial Teacher Education (PGCE) information. See Applying for PGCE Teacher Training to find out about applying in other parts of the UK and in Ireland.

PGCE courses are very competitive to get into so interested students are recommended to: 

  • Gain experience of working with young people of the age group you hope to teach – usually gained through voluntary work.
  • Get an insight into what work as a teacher is like by trying to arrange to speak to a teacher to ask them about their job, and/or try to get some classroom observation experience. Many students find it easiest to arrange this through personal contacts or with schools where you were once a pupil. It may be possible to arrange with a local school via a speculative application.
  • Keep up-to-date with what’s happening in Education via the Times Education Supplement and the Guardian’s Education section.
  • Apply early.
  • These interview tips are useful when preparing for the course interview. 

The Teach First Leadership Development Programme recruits high achieving graduates to work as teachers in some of the most disadvantaged schools in England and Wales.  Its 2 year programme combines this work with business skills training, internship and mentoring opportunities. At the end of the programme around 50% stay in the teaching profession in a leadership position, the other 50% are readily employed in a variety of business areas.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is an official and prestigious Japanese government scheme that sends graduates to Japan in order to promote international understanding at grass-roots level and to improve foreign language teaching in schools. Although participants teach English to school pupils, applicants for the programme can come from any degree discipline providing they hold a full UK passport.  It is a tough application process that begins in the October preceding the departure the following summer.

The TET (Teach English in Thailand) programme offers students and recent graduates a 9 week placement opportunity as a Teaching Assistant in Thailand.

In Colleges: Further Education Colleges will sometimes hire people to teach without them having teaching qualifications. These teachers will often be expected to work towards a teaching qualification and will be expected to have other relevant (vocational) qualifications and experience to offer. Colleges list job vacancies on their own websites. You can find a list of colleges on the Department of Education Northern Ireland website.

In Higher Education: University lecturers will normally be expected to have or be working towards a PhD. An Academic Career provides more information about this career route. Jobs and some PhD studentships can be found on Jobs.ac.uk. More PhD opportunities can be found on findaphd.com

General Graduate Options

Approximately 50% of graduate vacancies are open graduates of any subject. Some may require some additional, specialist, post-graduate training but some do not. The list is extensive but includes fields as diverse as accountancy, IT, housing management and recruitment consultancy.  You can get an idea of the variety of opportunities plus find year-long and summer work opportunities by looking on the graduate scheme websites.

How do I make a decision?

There isn’t one right way to make a career decision, but there are a few things worth doing and worth considering in order to make an informed choice:

  1. Don’t think you have to choose just one option – instead a shortlist of preferred options can be a useful strategy. Transferable skills can be gained from any type of work experience, so even if your work experience relates to one area, that won’t restrict you from moving into a different area.
  2. Think about what is important to you and look for evidence of those things when exploring your options e.g. if it is a priority for you to stay in Northern Ireland, look at the Relevant Job Websites for career areas that interest you to see how many job adverts you can find for that type of work here.
  3. The above are just a few of the options related to your degree area. It isn’t a comprehensive list.  Spend some time exploring the Relevant Job Websites to find other job titles and areas.
  4. Look at LinkedIn’s alumni tool (Topic 5 on the LinkedIn for students website) to see the career paths of alumni on LinkedIn.
  5. Speak to company representatives at on campus events (including fairs and employer presentations). Keep an eye on MyFuture for these opportunities.
  6. Need more information – approach any contacts you have, or speculatively approach companies, to set-up an information interview.
  7. If you’ve managed to successfully make use of an information interview, you could ask for a brief period of work-shadowing, i.e. observing someone while they work.  As little as a few hours of work-shadowing can give you a real insight into a job and company, and it is often easier for a company to agree to this than it would be to agree to a period of work experience.
  8. Still can’t decide? Sometimes you can only truly get a feel for whether a certain job is for you by trying it out.  Short-term work experience for students is a great method for trying-out different jobs and companies - see "What can I do to Go Further?" to find relevant opportunities.  If you are a graduate, remember, even a permanent job isn’t necessarily a job for life!

If you’d like to discuss any of this with a Careers Consultant please book an appointment through MyFuture.